Cleveland Sued for Requiring Permit for “First Amendment Activities”

The Cleveland Metroparks Department requires a “First Amendment Permit” to engage in “First Amendment Activities” in a Cleveland park. (You can check out their policy and application here and here.) An applicant must apply at least a week in advance, providing her name, address, phone number, name of organization, number of people participating, and the requested time. The city also limits First Amendment activities only to designated “First Amendment Areas” in each park. The city must now defend that policy in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court.

According to the complaint, last month, Alison Abdul-Kareem was in Edgewater Park in downtown Cleveland during a live-concert music festival.

The Edgewater Live concert series in Edgewater Park in Cleveland, Ohio.

Alison was there soliciting signatures for a state-wide ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana. She had not obtained a First Amendment Permit. She was also outside of the designated “First Amendment Area” in Edgewater Park. According to her lawsuit, several park rangers surrounded her–some on foot, some in vehicles, and some on horseback. They allegedly told her that she could not be asking for signatures there, but Alison insisted that she would continue to solicit signatures. The park rangers eventually left.

Alison’s lawsuit claims that Cleveland’s policy violates the First Amendment. She alleges that the park is a traditional public forum, and that the city’s permitting process as well as its geographic limitations violate the First Amendment. She’s asking the federal court to enjoin the city from enforcing the policy.

An interesting bit of background: in 1987, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Los Angeles ordinance prohibiting “all First Amendment activities” at the airport. It remains to be seen how much of an influence that case will play in this one.

You better believe we’ll be following this case.

UPDATE: The city has stated that it will no longer enforce its policy with respect to petitions like Alison’s. The case has been dismissed, but Alison may appeal. (Read about it more here.)

Case: Abdul-Kareem v. Bd. of Park Comm’rs of the Cleveland Metro. Park Dist., No. 1:17-CV-01613 (N.D. Ohio) (filed Aug. 1, 2017)

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